Jury retires in ex-MP expenses trial

The jury in the trial of a former MP accused of fiddling his expenses retired to consider its verdict today.

Jim Devine, 57, who held a seat in the House of Commons for Livingston in Scotland is on trial at Southwark Crown Court for falsely claiming almost £9,000 from the public purse.

The former Labour backbencher, of West Main Street, Bathgate, West Lothian, denies three charges of false accounting.

Count one is in respect of two invoices from Tom O'Donnell Hygiene and Cleaning of £180 each.

The second refers to three other invoices on Tom O'Donnell headed paper for £360, £360 and £2,160.

In total the amount he is accused of falsely claiming for cleaning services between July 2008 and May 2009 therefore equals £3,240.

The third count alleges that between March 2009 and April 2009, Mr Devine dishonestly claimed £5,505 for stationery from Armstrong Printing using two false invoices.

Mr Justice Saunders, the trial judge, sent away the jury of six men and six women this afternoon after going through the facts of the case and points of law.

Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, told jurors during the trial the case against Devine was "very straight-forward".

He said the former MP made the claims "with a view to gain for himself, or with an intent to cause loss to another - the public purse".

Referring to a claim he made for printing costs, he said: "It was merely a device used by Mr Devine in which to receive a substantial amount of public money to which he was not entitled."

He added: "The money he received from the fees office was sufficient to extinguish his overdraft."

Mr Wright said the expenses guide, known as the Green Book, listed the fundamental principles MPs should adhere to when making expenses claims.

He said: "These are based on concepts of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

"We say these are qualities of which Mr Devine demonstrated a woeful inadequacy."

Gavin Millar QC, defending, said to the jury: "Jim Devine asks you to give him no special treatment when you discuss this case."

The barrister also urged them not to set an even higher bar, saying: "There maybe a temptation in this case to apply a more demanding standard of honesty because he was an MP."

Mr Millar said if Devine wanted to clear his overdraft, he would not falsify invoices to the tune of just a few hundred pounds.

He said: "Why would Mr Devine go to the lengths of photocopying a blank invoice and persuading someone to right a lie on it for £180.

"The Crown can't have their cake and eat it.

"Either he wanted to get rid of his overdraft of thousands and thousands of pounds or he didn't.

"£180 is hardly going to make a difference."

Mr Millar told the jury that the cleaning receipts were all written out by cleaning staff or Mr O'Donnell, and referred to work that was carried out.

Dealing with the receipts for printing, Mr Millar said Devine was told by a fellow MP that he was able to transfer money from his communication allowance to cover his staffing costs.

The barrister said it was unsurprising his former colleagues have not backed him up.

"MPs have had enough of the expenses scandal," he said.

"Those that have survived it want to distance themselves as much as possible.

"That includes distancing themselves from Jim Devine."

The trial was adjourned to tomorrow, when the jury will resume its deliberations.